Again, I drive my spade into the frozen ground. Tiny rockets of pain shoot through my wrists, up into my shoulders. Tears spring to my eyes and I tell myself it’s frustration, pain, anything but this horrible sense of missing you. I drop to my knees, the coldness seeping through my jeans, and I burrow at the earth with my gloved fingers but the mud is as solid as the gold band I still wear on my wedding finger. I look up at the fir tree, branches dusted with snow and my heart aches. We’d brought this tree inside every single Christmas eve; you were big on traditions. Mulled wine warmed on the stove, the house smelling of cinnamon and cloves, as you’d heft the tree into its usual place, standing tall and proud in the dining room. You’d twist lights around its middle – a man’s job – you’d say, and then I’d hang baubles and candy canes. Three tiny felt stockings for the children we’d longed for but were never blessed with. Now you’re gone too. Loneliness wraps itself around me like a second skin. I raise my eyes to the flat, white sky and scream out my frustration, my breath billowing in front of me like a cloud. I wonder if you’re looking down. I like to think you are.
Despite my protestations, my sister’s coming for Christmas dinner this year. We’re going to have roast beef the way we always had growing up. Dad was a butcher and always insisted on something ‘with a bit of blood in it.’ You’d been horrified. ‘It must be turkey. It’s traditional.’ I still feel fragile. Raw. It’s too soon for snapping crackers and flaming puddings, carols about peace and goodwill to all men, but ‘it is the season for families,’ my sister insisted. She’s bringing Sophie my niece. ‘It will be odd without Dan at the table.’ She had said. Grief shimmering in her eyes. She adored you, as did Sophie and you were so good with her. Every visit I got a glimpse of the father you could have been and a painful lump rose in my chest.
Sometimes I’d pretend Sophie was ours. She had the same colouring as you. You’d stretch in front of the open fire, her cradled in your lap, reading stories about big bad wolves and too-hot porridge, heads bent, blonde hair glimmering as the flames crackled and hissed. She could almost have been ours I thought as I toasted pink marshmallows brown. Almost.
Except she isn’t ours.
She is yours though.
I still remember the heart wrenching pain when you’d told me you were leaving me for my sister. I still remember the weight of the iron in my hand. The sizzle as it hit your face. The sickening crack as your head hit the flagstone floor. I do hope the blood doesn’t stain.
I’d told everyone you’d run off with your secretary. I almost felt sorry for my poor sister as I watched confusion, disappointment, anger slide across her perfect, perfect face. She believed me. Why wouldn’t she? After all I’m not the liar here.
I sit back on my heels. It’s no good. I can’t indent the earth at all, let alone dig a hole big enough to bury you in. No matter. I’ve a batch of pastry resting in the fridge and mince pies were traditionally made of meat weren’t they? You’d appreciate the tradition. I’ll get dad’s old mincer out of the garage.
You’ll be joining us at the dinner table after all, darling.
Thanks so much for reading, reviewing and recommending my books this year. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas. See you next year. Louise x
‘An Unexpected Guest’ recently appeared on Portobello Book Blogs 12 Days of Christmas feature. You can hop over and read the other short stories from various writers here.